GLOW: Body Slams, Body Hair & Feminism in the ’80s
I woke up Saturday morning with one mission in mind. I was going to watch GLOW on Netflix. And I did. The entire season in one sitting. I regret nothing. The soundtrack is great, and the songs are dominating today’s playlist at work. The show is sharp and sly and touching. The hair, makeup, and costumes were all bright colors and bangs but resisted the urge to mock ’80s aesthetics for a cheap gag. The styles of the era are presented un-ironically in all their glory. It makes me nostalgic for the smell of Aqua Net and singed hair.
One of the strengths of the show is that it gets women. Physically and mentally, these gals are the real deal. The physical realities of being a woman are shown in ways that we don’t usually see. From the realities of breast feeding to synchronizing periods, the show did a great job of incorporating just what it means to live in a female body, without turning our bodies into a joke. Ruth (Alison Brie) plucks hair from her chin while she talks on the phone, and Stacey (Kimmy Gatewood) uses depilatory cream to remove moustache hair. That’s got to be the first time I’ve ever seen a woman with cream on her upper lip that wasn’t meant to deride the woman or be a joke in itself.
Mostly the show takes place in a fairly cloistered world of women, which leaves the characters at ease. It makes the moments when the women are made up and going on stage or going out the exception, rather than the norm.
The range of issues women deal with that are worked into this show is staggering. For the most part, these are handled deftly and subtly. Abortion is pretty clunky when it shows up, and feels shoehorned in, but it’s an anomaly.
The show manages to be very feminist without feeling overtly political. At times I felt victorious over how far we’ve come as a society, and at other moments I realized how little some things have changed, which is to the show’s credit. It feels current while being very much a period piece (pun intended). The crowd’s reaction to Arthie’s (Sunita Mani) Beirut was chilling and uncomfortably familiar, and though pundits don’t use the term welfare queen anymore, Tamme’s (Kia Stevens) wrestling persona grapples with social stigmas that are still very real.
Though the show is very feminist, it doesn’t do as much for the issues for women of color as it could have, so unfortunately issues of white feminism overwhelm the challenges faced by women of color. Cherry (Sidelle Noel) stands out as a phenomenal character that seems to avoid being cliché, and I wish she’d been more integral to later episodes. Other non-white characters are not shown with the same complexity though. We explore Sheila’s (Gayle Rankin) wolf identity in depth, but somehow don’t know more about Tamme than that she has a son in college.
Alison Brie plays her typical adorable yet neurotic character, but it really works here. Making her so unliked, and honestly, unlikeable, early in the show helps to endear her to us. The role really let Brie shine without being cutesy or overly sentimental. Having just ended the first season of American Gods, I’d love to see Betty Gilpin in a role where she doesn’t have to deal with a jerk of a husband. She was great as an 80s queen, and Betty was a great straight woman for Ruth’s obliviousness. Sam (Marc Maron) is such a sexist jerk, but you can’t help but love him…and also want to punch him.
Overall, the show is a lot of fun and very funny. Now I want to call all my girlfriends over so we can watch these Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling together.
GLOW is currently streaming season 1 on Netflix.